Sexual Abuse and Assault in a Large National Sample of Children and Adolescents

Ateret Gewirtz-Meydan, David Finkelhor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study sought to examine features of sexual abuse cases among a U.S. nationally representative sample of 13,052 children and adolescents, ages 0–17 years. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence was collected in three different years (2008, 2011, and 2014) via telephone interviews. Information about sexual abuse and assault was obtained from youth themselves (ages 10–17) or caregivers (for children ages 0–9) using the Juvenile Victimization Questionnaire. Results indicate most offenses are at the hands of other juveniles (76.7% for males and 70.1% for females), primarily acquaintances, and occurring more frequently for adolescents aged 14–17. Whereas girls are mostly abused by males (88.4%), boys are abused by both males (45.6%) and females (54.4%). In 15% of cases, penetration is part of the abuse. Victims report being very afraid in 37.5% of episodes but not at all afraid in 19.8%. Among 10- to 17-year-olds, 66.3% of episodes are not reported to parents or any adult. Police reports occur for 19.1% of all cases. The results in the present study indicate that children and youth are exposed to sexual abuse and assault in varied ways, which require moving beyond conventional stereotypes of the problem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-214
Number of pages12
JournalChild Maltreatment
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 May 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


  • national representative sample
  • sexual abuse
  • sexual assault

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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